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The Line Between Dark and Light

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By Marilyn Baron

Humor is an element in every book or story I’ve ever written. If it’s a dark romantic suspense, like my latest book, Homecoming Homicides, I believe it’s especially important to lace it with humor.  But where do you draw the line? How do you find the right balance between dark and light?

In the case of Homecoming Homicides, my villain, Rodney Willis, represents the dark side.  When I write in his POV, his sliminess bleeds onto the page.

Here’s an example of the “dark” in a short excerpt from the Prologue.


The Dark

Rodney Willis inhaled the aroma of fresh blood. In his opinion, nothing else even came close to the scent of suffering. The blood was slick and sticky and velvety, and he was practically swimming in it. He’d nearly slipped on the floor this morning while he was in full clean-up mode, getting ready for the new contestant. He needed to buy some combat boots.

The candidate on the table had been a real trooper. He had to give her credit. She’d performed superbly, even exceeded his expectations, although she was rather noisy. He’d had to muffle her screams. The bitch had bitten him, had probably given him rabies, if that was possible. He’d have to research that on the Internet. Not exactly a candidate for Miss Congeniality. He was finally forced to drug the little vixen, and after that it wasn’t nearly as much fun.

When she’d come around again, she complained of the cold. He had to keep the temperature of his workshop near freezing, so he’d obligingly covered her with a blanket and softly soothed her with meaningless prattle while he continued his work. She was pathetically grateful, probably holding out hope that he wouldn’t kill her if he was considerate enough to cover her. It suited him to kill her with kindness for the time being. It made it easier for him in the end. 


That intensity had to be balanced with something more comedic. Here is an example of the “light” in an excerpt from a scene between Philippa “Flippy” Tannenbaum and Luke Slaughter, who are forced to team up to find a serial killer who’s targeting homecoming candidates in their college community. The problem and conflict is that they just had a one-nighter and Philippa never thought she’d have to see Luke again.


The Light

As she looked up, Luke Slaughter backed into her office, magnificent butt first—his muscles straining under the weight of a large cardboard box. There was something vaguely familiar about the shape of the man’s butt. Or maybe it was that Dirty Harry-sized piece bulging out of his hip holster. Flippy tried to block out all thoughts about the night she’d just spent with Luke Slaughter. It wasn’t difficult to do, since she had been so hammered and intent on revenge against her serial cheating ex-fiancé, Jack Armstrong.

No doubt about it, the man looked good in a uniform. And out of it. And he was a warm body. Sufficient qualifications at the time for a revenge f**ck. Flippy suppressed rogue thoughts of that night. A night that refused to stop flashing before her eyes. The only thing clear about that night was that it had been a big mistake. A mistake she’d never make again.

“Whoa, how about stowing the attitude, sweetheart.” Luke’s smile had vanished. “I didn’t ask to work this case with you, but I’m ready to play nice.”

“I know you didn’t ask for this.” Flippy rose to her feet.

“In fact, I know you badmouthed me to Chief Bradley, doing everything you could to keep me off the task force. I believe your exact words were, ‘Chief, she may be easy on the eyes, but she’s a bubble-headed beauty queen you can’t count on in a crunch. She’s not a particular fan of handguns. I wouldn’t want to stake my life on her. She couldn’t even last six days in law school.’ Am I getting warm?”

Luke’s cheeks paled, taking on the color of the New Dawn roses that wound around the trellis outside her office window. At least he had the decency to look embarrassed before he let loose with that lethal babyface smile of his, which had a habit of appearing at the most inappropriate times. She still had dreams about those dangerous dimples

“Don’t even bother to deny it, you slimy little serpent,” Flippy hissed. “When one of my friends filled in for your chief’s secretary, she listened on the other side of the door when you tried to torpedo me.”

“I was just blowing off steam.”

“What you almost blew was my chance to do something meaningful with my life.”

* * *

So the banter and the tone between the hero and heroine is more humorous. Throw in Philippa’s receptionist, Misty Waters, a former pizza tosser, and Flippy’s over-the-top, meddling mother, Barbara, for even more comic relief and you have the perfect blend. Writing about serial killers like I did in this book, and Sixth Sense, Book One of the Psychic Crystal mystery series, was intense and I needed to utilize humor to rise out of the swamp that inhabits the morass of the killer’s mind.

Do you enjoy humor in the books you read? Or write?

To read more about my books and stories, please visit my Web site at

Homecoming Homicides Blurb

Professional crisis manager Philippa Tannenbaum is spokesperson for the law enforcement task force charged with solving a high-profile case. She never dreams her position as Homecoming Pageant Director and her second-place finish in the previous year’s competition has placed her on a serial killer’s hit list. Always a runner-up in life, she wants to finally come in first at finding the killer targeting the current crop of beauties.

Her friend Luke Slaughter, a Graysville city cop, shows up at Philippa’s office, assigned to partner with her in solving the case and to protect her 24/7 for the duration. Unfortunately, he’s also the man she hooked up with for a one-night stand when she broke up with her fiancé. Working with her is going to be less than easy, for a number of reasons…


Maxine - February 10, 2014 - 8:16 am

Marilyn, It Sounds great. I like humor in books. To me, that is real life. I think Homecoming Homicides will be a hit.

Marilyn Baron - February 10, 2014 - 8:50 am

I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. I love humor and use it every chance I can when I write. Thanks for your good thoughts about Homecoming Homicides.

Pam Asberry - February 10, 2014 - 9:09 am

I appreciate humor when it is done well. It sounds like you have found the perfect balance, Marilyn. Good luck with your latest!

Marilyn Baron - February 10, 2014 - 9:10 am

Thanks very much for your comment.

Diane Burton - February 10, 2014 - 9:59 am

I have to have humor (in books & movies) to offset the dark. If a book is too unrelenting dark, I won’t read any further. Loved Sixth Sense. Good balance between light & dark.

Marilyn Baron - February 10, 2014 - 11:04 am

Thank you so much Diane. I appreciate you saying that. It means a lot. Thanks for visiting the blog.

Sandy Elzie - February 10, 2014 - 2:53 pm

Hi Marilyn,
Great excerpts. Yes, I use humor, but a lot of the time the comic relief to sexual or anger-induced stress is to have a small child enter stage right and steal the scene. (I love kids)

I can’t wait to read your latest book.

Marilyn Baron - February 10, 2014 - 2:59 pm


Thanks for commenting. I also like to use animals as comic relief. Most of my animals are dogs, specifically, Bichon Frise’s, after my dog, who is no longer with us. Anyway, Homecoming Homicides has a Bichon Frise named Cruz Bustamante, after the former Lt. Governor of California. She belongs to the hero. I hope you like Homecoming Homicides.

Susan Carlisle - February 10, 2014 - 5:31 pm


I had no idea that the darkness and light warred in you. The cover is amazing!

Marilyn Baron - February 10, 2014 - 5:48 pm

I’m glad you like the cover. It’s pretty scary. Sixth Sense and Homecoming Homicides do have their dark sides but I hope I’ve balanced them out with humor.

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